What is Oral LeukoplakiaOral Leukoplakia is a condition in which thickened, white patches form on the gums, floor of the mouth, inner lining of the cheeks and sometimes on or under the tongue. These patches can't be scraped off easily.
Causes of LeukoplakiaThe actual mechanism of what causes leukoplakia is unknown. However there are certain factors that have been linked with the development of leukoplakia, most of them related with the mouth's reaction to chronic irritation of the mucous membranes.
The possible causes of leukoplakia include :
Smoking and chewing tobacco. Epidemiological data show that tobacco use is related with most cases of leukoplakia. People who chew tobacco develop leukoplakia at a higher rate and usually at the exact spot where they hold the tobacco against their cheeks. Another evidence showing that tobacco is among leukoplakia causes is that the condition improves or disappears some time after stopping its use.
Long-term alcohol use is also associated with leukoplakia, as it causes long term irritation of the mouth.
Mechanical irritation, caused by rough edges of teeth, fillings, crowns or dentures rubbing against the cheeks or gums, is another cause of leukoplakia.
Oral cancer. In a small percentage of cases, leukoplakia proves to be a pre-malignant lesion.
Other conditions mentioned as potential causes of oral leukoplakia are :
• Habits such as chewing pens, biting your lip or tooth grinding
• Sun exposure on the lips
• Using dental products that contain sanguinarine
• Human papilloma virus infection
Candida albicans, the fungus that causes oral thrush, is usually found in the leukoplakia patches. But it is not clear if its presence is the cause of leukoplakia or just a secondary effect of this condition.
Symptoms of LeukoplakiaInitially oral leukoplakia symptoms appear as flat, gray or gray-white plaques on the gums, floor of the mouth, inside the cheeks and sometimes on or under the tongue.
These initial sores, over a period of weeks or months, slowly develop into white patches with a thick, roughened or wrinkled texture and hardened surface. The white patches can not be scraped off easily, like those in oral thrush, which helps to differentiate the two conditions.
Leukoplakia usually does not cause other symptoms. It is painless, but the patches in a few cases can become sensitive to touch, heat or spicy foods. If raised red lesions are present (erythroplakia), there is increased chance of a pre-cancerous condition.
Screening and diagnosis of oral leukoplakiaOral Leukoplakia is normally diagnosed by examining the white patches in the mouth or the fuzzy manifestation of hairy leukoplakia on the tongue, after excluding other diseases that could cause similar symptoms, such as oral thrush.
Leukoplakia symptoms can be an early sign of oral cancer. To exclude this possibility, dentists usually remove a small tissue sample from the patch for analysis (biopsy). The sample will be examined for cancerous cells.
You should allways visit a dentist if you notice any sign of persistent abnormality in your mouth. Many diseases such as cancer, HIV/AIDS and others cause symptoms of oral leukoplakia.